OUR HISTORY: Strawberries were claim to fame

Long before marketers determined the need for branding, Mission was known as “home of the great big strawberry,” and an annual Strawberry Festival celebrated the many farmers and producers.The southward-facing slopes and many sources of water made the area ideal for growing, and the network of railways — west into the Lower Mainland, east to the Prairie provinces, and south to the United States — meant berries could be delivered at their peak. At times during the season, trains would stop for two hours while berries were being weighed and loaded.Local people also enjoyed the abundant crops — and none were better than the big, juicy berries produced on the Bailey Farm in the Cedar Valley area, north of Cherry Street. A park in the newly developed subdivision Bailey Place (near Fairbanks Street, south of Egglestone) is named after Roy Bailey who farmed in the area for 35 years.Roy was born in England in 1924 and attended boarding school there. As soon as he was of age, he joined the Royal Air Force, served as tail gunner in the Second World War and was involved in many dangerous night raids over Germany. Following the war, he worked as a manager of a dairy farm on the Isle of Wight. He married and had two sons. When the opportunity came to emigrate to Canada, he was ready.Roy arrived in Mission in 1955, travelling with his family across Canada by train; his daughter was born here a few years later. In 1957, he purchased a chicken farm at 32481 Cherry Ave., but soon found chickens were not very profitable, and began dabbling in various crops.Having settled on strawberries, he was determined to grow the best in the Valley — customers from as far away as Prince George testified to his success. Today, many long-time residents still remember the clean fields and large juicy berries; after the bulk of the crop was sent to market, many families showed up at the Bailey Farm for ‘You Pick’ fruit.Roy was always ready to help out friends and neighbours. In the early 1960s, he gave driving lessons to family friend Helen Carpenter, who had bought a used 1954 Dodge Regent that she had purchased because the Hydrive transmission would make it easy to shift gears. Roy turned out to be a great teacher; that car is still owned by her family.After 35 years of growing strawberries, Roy retired and converted the farm to a horse stable, which they sold in 2005. He and his wife moved to a retirement home in Gibsons. The original farm property was developed by Brian Sharp, and is now home to hundreds of families. The neighbourhood park and trail provide a reminder of a farm where some of the best strawberries in Mission were once grown.Sharon Syrette is writing a number of columns on Mission parks and trails history in recognition of BC Heritage Week’s theme of parks and nature preserves.